Of the five managers who have taken over clubs in the Premier League this season there’s little doubt Roberto Martinez has made his mark the quickest. Everton are still unbeaten, playing good football, and worth their place in the top four. Today, however, is their toughest test to date when they go to a Manchester City side smarting from their midweek defeat against Bayern.
I’m covering the match for BT Sport and it promises to be a cracking game. Roberto has brought his passing style to Everton, but he’s been wise enough to retain the aspects that made them so hard to beat under David Moyes. They still work very hard and, although he played with a back three a lot of the time at Wigan, he dug his heels in with Leighton Baines to keep intact a back four that has been one of Everton’s strengths. He has asked that back four to pass the ball a bit more, but in general it is further forward that he has given players leeway to express themselves a bit more. If they do make mistakes there it is less of a problem.
The player who has really benefited from this is Ross Barkley. I had Ross at Leeds United on loan. He’s got so much talent but he’s young and like a lot of young players he lacks a bit of discipline on the pitch. That means you have to be careful where you play him. He’s not good at taking responsibility off the ball and his concentration wanders, so if you play him wide, or in a midfield two, you can very quickly find team-mates are getting outnumbered as he doesn’t track back. He’s best playing behind a frontman, but that was difficult for me at Leeds as I had Ross McCormack and that was his best position too. McCormack was the No 1 man at Leeds so it was hard to leave him out for a teenager on loan, but when I played one of them wide it didn’t suit either of their strengths.
But if you spend too long looking at what a player like Barkley is not good at you can forget what he is good at, which is the things that not many other players can do, like going past people, creating and making goals. He’s like Adel Taarabt in that sense: you have got to give him his head, and Roberto has been brave enough to do that.
Roberto has given Ross his freedom playing just off Romelu Lukaku, with Gareth Barry behind him in a holding role. That’s perfect for Ross and it underlines how well Roberto has done bringing in Barry and Lukaku on loan.
Lukaku’s impact only underlines how strange it is that Jose Mourinho let him go while it’s already clear that Barry will be a really influential player for Everton. He just looks at home. He was always going to find it difficult to play regularly at Manchester City with all those world-class players competing for his place but at Everton he knows the manager has confidence in him and that’s given him his swagger back.
Everton will have to cope without Barry today as he’s on loan from City. It doesn’t seem entirely fair as he can play against all of City’s rivals for Everton, but I don’t think a player should play against his own team.
I’ve taken over at a lot of clubs and I don’t change things drastically until I’ve had a good look at what I’ve got. I go in with an open mind, no preconceived ideas, and once I’ve studied the players I decide how best to use them. I remember at Scarborough three of the best players in the club were centre-halves, so I played them all and told the full-backs to bomb on. At Notts County I inherited Don O’Riordan, who was a superb passing midfielder but was a veteran who found it harder to get around the pitch. I used to play him in front of the back two where he could use his passing – and sometimes behind them as a sweeper. In my first training session at QPR I realised I had a lazy genius in Taarabt, so I built a team around him that provided a platform for his ability when we had the ball, and covered up for his absence when we didn’t.
I think most managers follow the same policy of having a look, then working out how best to use what they have. Then there’s Pep Guardiola. He’s just taken over a team that won the Champions League in style, the German league breaking records, and the German cup. And it looks as if he has gone in and said: “This is my system, this is how you will play.” And it has worked, because Bayern Munich were frighteningly good when sweeping Manchester City away on Wednesday night. I suppose when you have top-class players it is far easier to introduce a system because they only need telling once, twice at the most.
Pep’s not the only new manager doing things his way this season. Jose at Chelsea had a look and decided he didn’t fancy Juan Mata and David Luiz, despite Mata being player of the year. Now they are both in the team. He’s not backed down: the players have met him halfway by taking on board the way he wants to play. It was noticeable in Bucharest that Mata is playing the ball quicker and Luiz is not taking as many chances. They have found a happy medium.
Spirit in Donetsk must have relieved Moyes
David Moyes has found it a bit harder settling into his new job and I was pleased for him at the way Manchester United dug in for a point in Donetsk. It is a tough place to go and their togetherness and discipline must have really pleased David. He will have gone into Old Trafford knowing he didn’t need to make many changes apart from bringing in one or two world-class players to increase competition and strengthen midfield. But Ed Woodward, in his new role as chief executive, failed to deliver the players and they made a panic buy in Fellaini. Of all the managers David will be the most impatient for 1 January and the transfer window opening.
It hasn’t helped him the way some of those players he would have put his mortgage on have lacked a bit of sharpness. David will have been surprised at some of the goals United have conceded with Rio and Vidic, so commanding in the past, looking quite vulnerable. He’ll be hoping it is just temporary as those two are so important to United.
Tell Wilshere smoking and sport don’t mix
I used to smoke. As kids we’d make roll-ups from whatever we could find in the street, but at 14 I packed it in and never wanted to start again. I knew it didn’t go with being an athlete and I hope Jack Wilshere realises as well. That said, I remember Keith Curle would have one at half-time at Sheffield United. When a team-mate complained, I pointed out Curly played with a cigar in his mouth too, because he was the best player on the pitch. But I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone making a career in sport.